Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

Photo exhibition: Life in South Asia’s Borderlands

  • When May 08, 2012 01:30 to Jul 13, 2012 01:30
  • Where Institute for Asian and African Studies, Invalidenstraße 118,10115 Berlin, 1st floor
  • iCal

Photo exhibition: Life in South Asia’s Borderlands

(by Willem van Schendel, Malini Sur)

Time and Venue
Institute for Asian and African Studies, Invalidenstraße 118,10115 Berlin,  1st floor
Monday - Friday (during office hours) from 8 May 2012 to 13 July 2012

South Asia is a region of many different international borders. They come in various forms. Some are old, others not. Some are tense and fortified, others open and relaxed. All of them have created borderlands, zones on both sides of the borderline. Here millions of people live lives that are marked by the border in ways that are largely unknown to non-locals. The images in this exhibition document life in the India-Bangladesh-Burma borderland. This is a relatively new borderland – two generations ago it was still part of a single unit, British India. It was not till 1947 that an international border descended on the inhabitants. They had to get used to the fact that they had now been assigned the citizenship of one country, and their neighbours that of another.

As national identities developed, however, many cross-border connections persisted, or were newly forged. Borderlanders had to make the best of a difficult situation, especially because tense relations between their countries

often translated into dangerous borders. As a result, states have often regarded their borderlanders with suspicion, and borderlanders have felt neglected, criminalised and misunderstood by their states.

This exhibition presents photographs that have been taken over the past ten years, during various phases of ethnographic fieldwork. It pays special attention to the new high security border fence that India is constructing with Bangladesh, and to boundary pillars and other markers for which there is little photo documentation up to this day. Embedded in theoretical work on borders and transnational societies, the exhibition presents images from the borderland with a view to facilitating reflection on the relationship between states and borderlanders in South Asia.

Willem van Schendel is Professor of Modern Asian History at the University of Amsterdam and heads the South Asia Department of the International Institute of Social History. His recent books include The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia (2005), Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders and the Other Side of Globalization (2005, co-edited with Itty Abraham) and A History of Bangladesh (2009).

Malini Sur is pursuing a PhD at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science
Research, University of Amsterdam. Her research interests include the anthropology of borders, partition studies and human security. Her dissertation on the India-Bangladesh border exposes the ambivalence of this region as one composed of lethal locations, and as interconnected sites that sustain quotidian forms of movement and exchange (scheduled to be completed by mid 2012). She has lectured at the University of Amsterdam and has worked for the International Institute of Asian Studies ( IIAS, Leiden). Prior to her appointment at the Amsterdam Institute, she worked for five years with the South Asia Program of the Social Science Research Council (New York). Photographs from her fieldwork have been exhibited in Kathmandu, Chiang Mai and